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This article was originally published in issue #24
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Love them or loathe them, guitar multi-effects processing units are here to stay. They've certainly got a lot of uses and they are very convenient. They're great for quick studio sessions as you can just plug in and go, with no need to worry about mic placement, room sound etc., and this same 'instant sound' quality also makes them fantastic for home/project studio session work, which is much more common these days. Silent pit work in theatre shows where there are no amps in the orchestra pit, is another application, because they enable a guitar to be DI'd via an effects unit straight into the PA system, making it much easier to manage overall volumes.
It has to be said that purists didn’t exactly celebrate their arrival as a species. Back then, amp modelling was a million light years away from sounding anything like the amp it was modelled on and many said they also lacked the feedback and feel of a valve amp at full tilt. However, many years on and with an improvement in technology, things have changed and even the purists can be seen using them when needs must. There are many on the market today, ranging hugely in price and what they offer but in this review I'm looking at two low cost new releases from DigiTech, the Element and the Element XP.
Despite their relatively low prices, the Element and Element XP are both versatile guitar multi-effects pedals that offer hundreds of sounds, effects, amps and cabinets, drum machine and much more. Both offer classic overdrive and distortion stompboxes, 12 amps and cabinets and 28 pedals. In effect, they feature much the same internals, the difference being the expression pedal on the XP version. Both feature a pedalboard-style control layout that is simple to use and lets players quickly adjust and save their settings to fit their personal style.
We plugged these pedals straight into the front of an amp with the EQ all set at 12 o’clock. This one really is a plug in and play pedal, meaning you don’t have to go through a 700 page instruction book and decipher 12 different languages to turn it on! It even comes with a little card that clearly outlines how to do the basic things and the full instruction manual can be downloaded from DigiTech's website. There are over 100 pre-sets on the pedal and it's a simple case of using your foot to scroll up or down one at a time, or hold it to move through quicker. If it's on a desk then you can use the scroll button. I demonstrate on the video how to choose different pedals, patches and save changes so I won't repeat myself here, but it is very simple to do.
With stompboxes inspired by the likes of the TS-9 Tube Screamer, Boss DS-Distortion; Amplifiers such as the Fender Tweed and JCM800; an array of effects including chorus, delay, compression, tremolo and many more, there is certainly plenty to play around with. The pre-sets were good, ranging from clean and sparkly, to crunchy Rock, through to full on saturated lead and a pleasant collection of the weird and wonderful.
Individually, the pedals and amps sounded fairly authentic. I often find with these kind of pedals that the crunch, lead and distortion sounds are normally pretty good, but they are often let down by the clean tones. I found this to be the case here, too, not that there is anything inherently wrong with the clean sounds, in fact they were very pleasant, but they lack the power, presence and depth of a valve amp. This isn’t so much of an issue when recording but when playing live it's going to struggle cutting through the mix without that little extra power.
That said, the pre-set sounds are good enough to not warrant spending the time trying to create your own, and there are so many that there should be something to please everyone. If it's just a small tweak you wish to make to a pre-set, such as add a different type of distortion pedal, then that’s very simple to do.
The drum machine is a nice addition giving you something more inspiring than a metronome to practice to. It doesn’t have the greatest selection of grooves but it's plenty good enough as a nice add-on to an already packed pedal.
The Element has a very small footprint and is light, meaning you could pop it into your gig bag and not really know it was there, making it an ideal portable device. Overall, DigiTech's Element is a multi-effects unit that offers good sounds with hundreds of different options and settings, the clean sounds are a little thin, but for the price there is more than enough here to keep you happy and experimenting with different tones.
DigiTech Element XP
The XP is the Element's bigger brother and is essentially exactly the same pedal but with the welcome addition of an expression pedal, plus it has 38 effects rather than the 34 found on the Element. The expression pedal can perform various different functions including volume, wah wah, octave, and model alteration, depending on the patch you are currently using. You can also assign a specific expression to your own patch creation or change an existing one. For me the addition of the expression pedal is what completes this unit, if you are going to be using it as a pedal board type set-up then you really do need a pedal.
The pedal worked well with the volume setting, offering a controlled smooth sweep, the wah wah sounded good, and hours of fun can be had with the pitch shifting! The only thing I would say is I'm not sure how much abuse the unit would take. It feels well made but maybe not as solid as some others. Will it withstand night after night abuse? Only time will tell.
So, an already good multi-effects unit gets a very useful expression pedal for just a little more money. Giving you more options and control. The addition doesn’t make the pedal much bigger so it still maintains its portable and light selling point. An already good effects unit made better with this addition.
Digitech is a tried, tested and trusted manufacturer and this latest offering is great addition to its range. With the current market for multi-effects units mainly devoted to high end, high priced units, these pedals offer a chance for players wishing to dip their toes into the bewildering world of the solid state multi-effects pedalboard era, with a good quality pedal, offering a multitude of effects that will keep even the most hardened gear head amused for a long time. Neither the Element or the Element XP will disappoint in the correct setting.